Rabbi Aryeh Levine • “The Tzaddik of Jerusalem”
On the eve of Shabbat Hagadol, Nissan 10, 5729 (1969), Rav Aryeh Levine rendered his soul to his Creator. Following his casket were thousands of people, among them Rabbis and Rebbes, Roshei Yeshiva and their students, the President of the State of Israel, and thousands of men, women, and children. Jerusalem had never before witnessed such a large funeral.
Just exactly who was this Tzaddik, Rav Aryeh Levine, about whom so many amazing things have been said? Why exactly did everyone so greatly appreciate him? I will tell you a few things about this marvelous man that everyone recognizes as having been one of the greatest figures in Jerusalem, a man simply called Rav Aryeh, without any titles or qualifications.
I remember that when I was a young immigrant from Lithuania, I went to visit one of the greatest of Roshei Yeshiva, the Gaon Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer of Jerusalem. Upon coming back home, I passed through some narrow streets in the Yemenite “Mishkenot” neighborhood near Mahane Yehuda. I was walking with my friend and we were speaking about the Gaon Rabbi Isser Zalman, who was the last remaining Rosh Yeshiva from the spiritual giants of the previous generation.
All of a sudden we sensed someone running behind us, and in fact someone was coming near. With a sweet and pleasant voice, he began to say, “Dear children, I beg you, please come to my home for some tea. It’s now fall, and the wind blows hard in Jerusalem. I can see that you are cold. I beg you, I’m asking you to do me a favor and come with me to my home!” Without waiting for a response, he took us by the arm and brought us to his house. In the darkened, narrow street I could not make out this man’s appearance, but inside his illuminated home I saw him for the first time. He was a short, portly Jew with eyes glimmering like crystal and filled with love and kindness. He face was radiant and smiling, and his white beard extended to his chest. He put some water to boil and served us a glass of tea with cookies. He chatted with us and asked various questions, encouraging us to study Torah with extreme diligence.
In returning to the yeshiva, we learned that the man who had served us, and indeed who had thanked us for giving him the opportunity to carry out the great mitzvah of hospitality, was Rav Aryeh Levine, the Mashgiach of the great Etz Chaim Talmud Torah in Mahane Yehudah.
Rabbi Aryeh Levine was born in 5645 (1885) in the tiny city of Orla, near Grodno in Russia. In his youth, he studied in the yeshivot of Slutzk, Halusk, and Volozhin.
At the age of 20 he left for Eretz Israel, where he continued to study in the yeshivot of Jerusalem and became familiar with the great men and sages of the city. Eventually Rav Aryeh himself became famous in Jerusalem, and the administrators of the Etz Chaim yeshiva named him as the Mashgiach of their Talmud Torah.
The yeshiva students loved Rav Aryeh. He never yelled at a child, but rather approached him and spoke to his heart in order for the student to become diligent in his studies. He lovingly would caress a student and ask that he study Torah as a favor to him. Thus these children, who did not want to cause their beloved Rav any heartache, studied with diligence in order for Rav Aryeh to be happy with them.
Rav Aryeh behaved with love and affection to all his students, treating them as adults. One day he was seen going to a certain neighborhood and asking where a particular boy lived. This took people by surprise, but it was later learned that this boy had gone to see Rav Aryeh at noon on the same day to ask him something. Rav Aryeh was busy at the time, and he had asked the boy to wait for him. The boy waited a long time, but Rav Aryeh still did not come to see him, for he had forgotten about him. That night when Rav Aryeh arrived home, he remembered the boy and the fact that he had told him to wait. The boy was certainly disappointed to have not seen him, and Rav Aryeh could find no peace of mind for himself. “Who knows what sorrow the boy may have felt by my failure to see him?” he said. He gave himself no rest until he decided to go see the boy and hear what he had to say.
Rav Aryeh had an extraordinary love for the Jewish people, and in his heart burned a great passion for every Jew. The door to his home was always open to whoever was in distress, and people constantly came to see him to relate their worries and problems, and he encouraged and consoled them. When asked to pray for someone who was sick, not only did Rav Aryeh pray for him at his home or in synagogue, he rushed to see the sick person and would pray by his bedside for his healing. When he had the opportunity to perform a mitzvah, Rav Aryeh always took pleasure in running to accomplish it.
A Tzaddik once said, “There is nothing greater than the broken heart of a Jew.” Rav Aryeh Levine had such a heart.
His love for Eretz Israel was enormous. He always said, “The Torah and Eretz Israel are one.” His mouth never ceased to sing the praises of Eretz Israel and those of its sons/builders. In particular, he showed great love for the “prisoners of Zion” – young people whom the British authorities had imprisoned.
During the time of British control over Eretz Israel, various movements arose that wished to liberate the country from the yoke of foreigners. Many young people who dared fight the British were sent to the infamous Latrun Prison, where they were subjected to all sorts of physical mistreatment and many hanged. The only person who visited these prisoners – who encouraged them and lifted their spirits during the most trying times of their lives – was Rav Aryeh Levine.
He would pray with these prisoners and give a small course after prayers. He spoke of Rabbi Akiva, who sanctified G-d’s Name, and the fact that the Torah, Israel, and Eretz Israel are one. A person who was hanged for the Jewish people or Eretz Israel was like one killed for the Torah. “How I envy each of you, you who have merited to be among those whom the Holy One, blessed be He, has chosen to sanctify His Name on the soil of our Holy Land.” His words, which emerged directly from his heart, entered the hearts of his listeners. He treated the prisons like beloved children, and the prisoners treated him like a dear father. It is with just cause that Rav Aryeh Levine has been called the “father of prisoners.”
At the end of his life, the city of Jerusalem conferred upon him honorary citizenship. He was very much surprised by this honor, saying: “I don’t know why I deserve this! What merit do I possess? I only benefited from Jerusalem, and even more than what I did for her, Jerusalem has done for me.”